Chapter Four: The Long Road to Equity

1990s

Early Legislative Efforts

Filipino Americans decried the injustice of the Rescission Act.

By the late 1980s, Filipino Americans increasingly organized around veterans’ issues and decried the injustice of the Rescission Act. Advocates did not completely give up their earlier strategy of winning victories in U.S. federal courts. But their primary focus was on passing new laws in Congress.

A Filipino veterans' protest in Los Angeles, California. Shades of L.A. Collection

Many veterans took inspiration from the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This landmark legislation provided redress and compensation for Japanese Americans who were interned on the American home front during World War II. Many of the congressional leaders who passed that law were equally committed to recognizing Filipino World War II veterans.

President Ronald Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Aug. 10, 1988, Washington, D.C. Densho, the Kinoshita Collection

Filipino Americans fought hard to ensure that immigration laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s reflected veterans’ legal rights and their economic needs. Few were as devoted to their cause as Senator Daniel Inouye (HI), a Japanese American World War II combat veteran and recipient of the distinguished Congressional Medal of Honor, who worked tirelessly alongside his legislative assistant Marie Blanco in their decade-long struggle for veterans rights.

Senator Daniel Inouye and his Chief-of-Staff Marie Blanco. Marie Blanco

Among those collaborating with them were Representative Mervyn Dymally (CA), an African American veteran of civil rights movements, Senator Daniel Akaka (HI), and Representative Patsy Mink (HI), a supporter of feminist movements and women’s rights.

Representative Patsy Mink announces the formation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Laura Patterson

Daniel Akaka

September 11, 1924 – April 6, 2018

U.S. Senator and supporter of Filipino veterans benefits

As chairman of the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Daniel Akaka supported legislation recognizing the contribution of Philippine veterans, including the 2009 Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. Prior to becoming the first senator of Native Hawaiian descent in 1990, Akaka served in the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII and taught high school in Honolulu. In 1996, Akaka spearheaded the effort to review the WWII records of Asian-American servicemen. As a result, 30 medals were retroactively awarded to Asian-American WWII veterans, including senator Daniel Inouye. Though not always successful, during his career in the Senate, Akaka continually advocated for legislative solutions to the inequities created by the 1946 Rescission Act.

Joining them was another Japanese American World War II veteran, Representative Norman Mineta (CA), who had been incarcerated with his family at the Heart Mountain “relocation center” in Cody, Wyoming, during the war. Many Congressional sponsors were of Japanese American ancestry and made direct connections between the discrimination they had endured during World War II and the struggles of Filipino veterans decades later.

The Heart Mountain Japanese Interment camp in Cody, Wyoming. The Dell Family Collection

Norman Mineta

November 12, 1931 –present

U.S. Congressman and co-sponsor of Filipino Veterans Equity Act

Having spent the war in a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, in Congress Norman Mineta fought for legislation that recognized injustices committed against Japanese Americans and Filipino WWII Veterans. A veteran of the Korean War, Mineta was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1975, a position he held for the next twenty years. In the 1970s and 80s, Mineta took legislative aim at obtaining redress for the U.S. government’s treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. In 1995, Mineta co-sponsored the Filipino Veterans Equity Act that would have restored benefits to Filipino Veterans of WWII.

Passing legislation demanded patience from organizers and pressure from constituents. It also required Filipino veterans to make difficult choices. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990. Among its many provisions was one that allowed for the naturalization of Filipino World War II veterans who had been excluded by the terms of the Rescission Act. Filipino veterans could now become U.S. citizens. Sadly, the law did not extend veterans benefits or overturn the Rescission Act. The U.S. government continued to deny veterans’ financial claims.

Filipino WWII veterans during the naturalization ceremony in San Francisco. Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

Oral History

The supreme court had ruled against them. I suggested to the senator that we try and do some kind of legislation.

Marie Blanco, Vice Chair of FilVetREP, Former Chief-of-Staff to Senator Daniel Inouye

Naturalization

The 1990 Act secured naturalization rights, but because it was an immigration law and not a spending bill, it left veterans benefits untouched. It forced veterans to ask: is it better to win what one called “half a loaf”? Or should they hold out for full and equitable benefits and the complete repeal of the Rescission Act? With the World War II generation aging and beginning to pass on by the 1980s, many felt a piecemeal approach was better than none.

“Pablo Dungo, a USAFFE veteran, tries on the uniform he bought at the Salvation Army. He plans to wear it when he dies.” Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

In the years to come, many veterans naturalized as U.S. citizens in moving ceremonies convened in both the U.S. and the Philippines. Swelling numbers of Filipino veterans, ultimately over 25,000, claimed their overdue rights to become Americans. Some 17,000 moved to the United States. Without full benefits as U.S. military veterans, many of those recent migrants found it difficult to make ends meet in their new homeland.

“Florentino Navarete was the driver of Dwight D Eisenhower in the Philippines.” Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

Oral History

I thought it would be easy to get my benefits. But I found out that as a USAFFE veteran you are a second rate citizen.

Celestino Almeda, WWII Veteran, 102 years old

Naturalization

Many Filipino veterans found it difficult to make ends meet in their new homeland.

Next Section

1997 – 2008

Taking to the Streets

The battle for equity continued, with Filipino veterans and their supporters taking action through protests and demonstration.

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